First, the administration has been effective in advancing the most vital interest of all — and the organizing principle of any nation’s foreign policy — protecting the homeland. America may not be safe; but it’s certainly safer as a result of counterterrorism policies that have tracked and killed Osama bin Laden, dismantled much of al Qaeda’s core and prevented another spectacular attack against the continental United States.
Second, the administration is well on its way toward extricating itself from both Afghanistan and Iraq — conflicts that have resulted in thousands of Americans killed, scores of thousands with life-crippling injuries and a massive expenditure of resources and credibility that by any standard was hardly worth the price the country paid. And the administration has been smart about that disengagement, neither delaying it unnecessarily nor obsessing and handwringing over the prospects of unhappy post-withdrawal scenarios. That we will leave a sizeable residual force to train and assist Afghan security makes sense. But clearly the future of Afghanistan, like Iraq, will be determined less by what we do while we’re there and more what they do when we leave.
Third, the United States is weaning itself off Arab hydrocarbons. In 2011, the U.S. imported 45 percent of the liquid fuels it used, down from 60 percent just six years earlier. A new Western Hemispheric oil order is emerging, at the expense of the Middle East. Between new oil in Brazil, oil-sands production in Canada and shale-gas technology here at home, by 2020 we could cut our dependence on non-Western Hemisphere oil by half, according to oil guru Daniel Yergin. Combine that with the rise in national oil production and greater focus on fuel efficiency and conservation, and the trend lines are at least running in the direction of less reliance of Middle East oil, and perhaps less obsessing over its politics, too.
Fourth, the U.S. is more seriously engaged now than ever in a determined effort to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capacity.